Is coding the new tuition trend?

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By Linette Heng

SINGAPORE — Schools that offer coding enrichment classes have seen a flurry of interest since the government announced last month that all upper primary school students will do a compulsory coding enrichment programme from next year.

Some parents had mistakenly believed that coding would now be a school subject rather than a one-off 10-hour programme, and wanted to give their children an edge, said David Lee, founder of Computhink, which has been offering coding classes since 2015.

He does, however, anticipate a boost in enrolment now that more parents and students have been made aware of the need for coding as a skill, and following initial exposure to the Ministry of Education (MOE) course.

“Most local parents are still focused on getting their kids to pass their tests and exams. They would have heard of coding but might not think that it is absolutely useful. MOE’s initiative will provide exposure and some will sign up for regular coding classes that are suitable for more serious learners,” he said.

“Programming is very hands-on and the feedback (when they work on their projects) is immediate. The kids need to be able to ask questions and this is harder in a classroom of 30 students,” he added.

Candice Wang, the co-founder of Coding Lab, said she also expects an intake uptick. “There will definitely be a bigger pool of students who realise their interest in the area as well as parents who will now see the importance of having an early start in computational thinking.”

Code For Fun (CFF) will be a non-examinable programme and part of the government’s plan to provide a boost to the pipeline of technology-ready talent. It will cover the basics of core computational thinking, and teach coding concepts through simple visual-based programming language, according to the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

CFF expands on an optional enrichment programme, which has been running since 2014 and has benefitted 93,000 primary and secondary students.

Demand for coding enrichment classes had already been climbing, say representatives from coding schools here.

Over 5,000 students between four and 18 have completed courses at the Coding Lab, which started in 2015 and has seen a five-fold increase in enrolment since then, said Wang.

SG Code Campus, which has been offering coding classes to students from primary school to pre-university level over the last three years, has seen a more than 70 per cent increase in enrolment year on year. The school, which has taught over 3,000 students, now has 11 full-time instructors and five part-time instructors delivering a growing range of courses.

In short workshops or longer school holiday camps, children as young as four learn to code scenes from children’s books and programme robots to do basic tasks.

Older students learn to create anything from their own games and animation, to mobile apps. Some practise Python code writing skills while playing the popular game Minecraft. Python is a computing language which is widely used by the technology industry and is usually taught at university level.

Among them is 12-year-old Ziv. His mother Choo Li Hong recognised his ambition to become a “white hat” hacker or game developer early, and signed him up for weekly coding classes at the Coding Lab last year. Now, he is learning to create his own online games while also developing skills like resilience, cooperation and problem solving, she said.

“I can see that he is working hard towards his ambition…He is constantly putting effort in his studies so that he can go to a school that offers computing as a subject,” she added.

Computing was introduced as a new O level subject at 19 schools in 2017.

But even those who do not intend to pursue computing as a subject will still need baseline skills, said Stephanie Law, the co-founder of SG Code Campus, adding, “The future of work is digital and all jobs will require baseline tech competencies.”

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